Catch These Ballet-Focused Films at NYC’s Dance on Camera Festival
New York City’s annual Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center is always a feast of dance-centric films, from documentaries to choreographic works to shorts. This year’s fest, which runs February 9 through 12, features 11 programs and 36 films, including 8 world premieres, 5 North American premieres, and 2 U.S. premieres.
While Dance on Camera showcases all genres, here are this year’s selections with a distinct ballet focus or starring ballet dancers. Check them out below! (Tickets are sold by program, not individual films—click on links in the movie titles for details and times.)
Swan Song, which opens the Dance on Camera Festival, follows National Ballet of Canada artistic director Karen Kain as she mounts her brand-new Swan Lake just before her retirement in June of 2021. Directed by Chelsea McMullan and executive produced by Neve Campbell, the film centers on Kain and several NBoC dancers during the ballet’s creation process. But it also takes audiences into their personal lives, spotlighting the challenges of a ballet career and the issues within the dance world.
This 30-minute documentary directed by Jennifer Lin centers around 88-year-old George Lee, a Las Vegas blackjack dealer. Unbeknownst to his colleagues and friends, Lee was a ballet dancer in his former life—one who holds an important place in dance history. In 1954, George Balanchine chose him to dance the “Tea” divertissement in his original staging of Nutcracker when Lee was just a teenager. A dance prodigy, Lee had moved to the U.S. as a refugee from Shanghai and was told by his mother that, as an Asian immigrant, he needed to be “ten times better.” He studied at the School of American Ballet, and while he wasn’t hired into NYCB, he would carve out a career in ballet and on Broadway, including starring in Gene Kelly’s Flower Drum Song. Check out the trailer on the film’s website.
New York City premiere
A Place for Us, set to music from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, features six women from Steven Spielberg’s 2021 version of the iconic musical. Directed by former Miami City Ballet dancer Leigh-Ann Esty and Ellie Gravitte, and choreographed by Adriana Pierce, artistic director of Queer the Ballet, this six-minute film explores female camaraderie, self-ownership, and strength.
New York City Premiere
One reflects a dancer’s anxiety in the midst of isolation, uncertainty, and change before finding solace in his art. Directed by Mathäus Bussmann, choreographed by David Dawson, and performed by ballet star Daniil Simkin—whose production company, Studio Simkin, produced it—this seven-minute film utilizes extraordinary camerawork, with a dancer’s eye to line and movement.
London’s Ballet Black performs Will Tuckett’s Then or Now, created for and filmed on the company in 2020. Danced to the poems of Adrienne Rich, this 35-minute ballet explores how every action, large or small, is a political act in today’s turbulent times. Through it, Tuckett asks, “Whose story should the dancers be telling in a time of such political and social change?” Directed by Tuckett and Roswitha Chesher.
New York City Premiere
Freelance artist Benjamin Freemantle, a former San Francisco Ballet principal, stars in this five-minute film choreographed by Post:ballet artistic director Robin Dekkers. Described by Freemantle as a love letter to San Francisco, Been Lovin’ You follows him as he dances throughout the city.